Virginia has plans for J&J vaccine, outdoor mask mandate could be lifted soon

Virginia to restart administering Johnson & Johnson vaccine

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - After a multiple-day pause, Virginia is ready to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“We have lots of J&J on hand and so, it really can be put back in circulation really quickly,” said Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia Vaccine Coordinator. “I anticipate probably even this weekend some providers will probably be using the Johnson & Johnson and certainly as we move into next week that will move more into circulation.”

Dr. Avula says none of the state’s current supply of J&J has gone to waste since the pause. As for who would get the supply, Avula says it would mostly be shipped to colleges and universities.

“We’ll be looking to move that towards college students so we don’t have to coordinate that second dose once they leave campus,” said Avula.

He says they are shifting efforts to mobile vaccinations to get more shots into more arms more quickly. New mobile contractors would use J&J since offering a one-dose option is easier in rural places. The state also plans to use it on hospitalized patients.

“It really doesn’t seem like the pause on J&J has changed many people’s minds about whether they would use it or not. That’s encouraging, but we’ll see when the rubber meets the road,” said Avula.

Avula says because of the effectiveness of the vaccine rollout so far those still on the fence will have more say in which vaccine they get.

“When you go to vaccinate.virginia.gov and you go down the pathway of looking for an open appointment, you can see very clearly what vaccine you’re signing up for,” Avula said.

Friday, the CDC and FDA lifted their recommended pause on the usage of the J&J vaccine while officials investigated a possible link between the vaccine and rare blood clots. Avula says according to the CDC there were 15 reported instances of that rare blood clot from those who took the one-shot vaccine out of the more than 8 million doses administered.

“With the rarity of that occurrence and the benefit of that vaccine and the lives you would save with an effective vaccine, the risk-benefit calculation clearly leaned in the direction of continuing to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Avula said.

Avula released the following statement on the federal action:

“Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lifted their recommended pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, following the recommendation of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) that the vaccine should be cleared for use by all adults. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will follow that guidance and instruct providers across the Commonwealth that they are free to resume administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine immediately.

“This extra scrutiny should instill confidence in the system that is in place to guarantee COVID-19 vaccine safety. As with any vaccine, we encourage individuals to educate themselves on any potential side effects and to weigh that against the possibility of hospitalization or death from COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, Avula also says the quickening pace of the vaccine rollout means that the outdoor mask mandate could be lifted within weeks.

He says data is getting better on the impact of COVID-19 vaccines. Out of the 77 million vaccinated, he says only 5,800 got COVID-19 which is an extremely low number.

“I do think that as more people get vaccinated and as case rates go down, there will be a lot more flexibility about not needing masks outside,” said Avula.

Avula says the state will wait for the CDC before moving forward with a change to the outdoor mask mandate.

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